By State Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny/Washington)
Growing up across the river from Clairton, the glow of the steel plant, a clanging spectacle of industrial might, was a constant reminder of who we all are.
We’re working people with a pride in the fact that metal poured here holds up the skyscrapers in New York, spans great rivers, and connects the nation on ribbons of rail. We make things here: steel, energy, chemicals – and the families and futures that grow from the chance to earn a good wage for an honest day’s work.
In recent years, visits to my hometown can scald my heart when I look across the river. There’s less clang from the mill and the decline is found in boarded storefronts, empty houses, and a mute despair that has hung over us like a curse since the 1980s.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, we cannot survive if we accept it any longer.
The economics of the situation are clear to anyone who watched the transformation. Companies made our goods cheaper overseas. Now, though, Americans are hungry again for American-made products – especially after the current pandemic demonstrated just how fragile that overseas supply chain can be.
But bringing manufacturing back isn’t that simple. We have another problem, and it runs a bit more deeply.
An entire generation has grown up around the notion that we must fear these industries that built our very nation. This out-of-sight, out-of-mind mentality has caused us to encourage production to move overseas where we know environmental regulations are lacking, at best, by tightening the noose on our own regulatory environment so much that it actually stifles the very innovation that would lead us to cleaner air and cleaner water.
As a mom, before policymaker, I don’t take lightly the fact that the weight of my decisions may very well someday affect the future of my own children or grandchildren. It is without a doubt I want to leave behind a cleaner world for them. We all do, but I also don’t want to leave them with no choice but to pack up and go when it comes time to find a job because Pennsylvania is closed for business.
Nobody denies that manufacturing demands that we pay attention to the physical environment. But the very idea of a society also demands that we recognize that despair and hopelessness are environments of their own. We saw that irony through the 1980s when people who lost their jobs in the mills jumped from bridges framed in the very steel they helped to produce.
Instead of fostering progress, the current governor is trying to unilaterally push Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Never mind that we’ve already met and exceeded its initiatives without membership. Now, neighboring states that banned natural gas development and related industrial opportunities will get to dictate to us what is necessary to meet quotas that we have already achieved.
Redefining economic stagnation as environmental victory is no solution for our region. We need to embrace manufacturing and the progress it brings. This July, we celebrated the 51st anniversary of putting men on the moon and bringing them back safely. More than half a century later, I think we have it in us to make products and create jobs without ruining life on earth.
State Rep. Natalie Mihalek represents the 40th Legislative District, which includes portions of Allegheny and Washington Counties.
Representative Natalie Mihalek
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Brooke Haskell